“I never tried to make a commercial record…I know that sounds like a bit of a weird thing to say, because you try to sell records, but I was always trying to find a path of my own,” producer, deejay, and “mixologist” Adrian Sherwood explains via Skype, hanging out in his kitchen cooking and discussing the contents of Sherwood at the Controls Vol. 2: 1985-1990, out now on his label, On-U Sound.
Emerging from the early punk movement, Sherwood has spent his career making his own path, and the process has established him in disparate fields. He’s a dub innovator, working with artists like Prince Far I, Suns of Arqa, and Mickey Dread, and a pioneering remixer, re-cutting singles by Depeche Mode, Sinead O’Connor and Cabaret Voltaire. He’s led groups like the influential New Age Steppers and contributed to records by the Pop Group, the Fall and the Slits, all the while blurring the distinctions between electronic music, punk, and reggae.
This new collection, a sequel to last year’s Sherwood at the Controls: Vol. 1: 1979-1984, explores Sherwood’s involvement in the development of industrial music, his collaborations with NYC hip-hop session players Doug Wimbish, Keith LeBlanc, and Skip McDonald as Tackhead, and selections from his fruitful relationship with Lee “Scratch” Perry, culminating in their essential album Time Boom X De Devil Dead.
Sherwood remains incredibly prolific. His mixing recently appeared on the blissful Neptune by Higher Authorities and on Japanese trio Nisennenmondai’s clattering, throbbing #N/A, and he’s in the midst of prepping a new album for On-U called Dub…No Frontiers, a featuring a selection of woman singing over his riddims (an early release from the album, Neyssatou singing Bob Marley’s “War,” indications it’ll be a must-hear selection).
We caught up with Sherwood to get some insight into his process, examining his attraction to making a “racket” over crafting hits, and lessons Lee “Scratch” Perry taught him.
Aquarium Drunkard: This collection starts in the early-to-mid ’80s, at at time when you had stepped away from reggae and dub, following the Murder of Prince Far I in 1983.
Adrian Sherwood: I loved reggae still, but I was really like, “You know what? This is depressing.” I didn’t feel much at all like doing any [reggae music] really. I was surrounded by a bunch of great reggae musicians who were my friends, but it wasn’t their fault. At that time I was starting to get invited by the likes of Depeche Mode and others to do remixes. They always called me in to do the weirder remix– not the commercial one — which to be honest with you, suited me right down to the ground, because I’m not a musician, I’m not that confident [saying] “Okay, let’s go and design a hit record or something.” I was quite happy making records for myself, which were a little bit out of the normal scope of things.
So when I started to get offered opportunities to work with non-reggae stuff, but still use the Jamaican effects and techniques I’d picked up, it was really quite nice. I was getting paid; I wasn’t putting out the records, people were hiring me…it coincided that at that time I did a lot of jobs, and it coincided with me meeting Doug, Skip, and Keith [with whom Sherwood formed the industrial hip-hop group Tackhead] in New York.